Unlike yesterday, this is the Apple story I’m happy to write, although of course the circumstances are deeply unhappy. Steven “Steve” Paul Jobs is dead.
I didn’t know Jobs personally, but he certainly influenced my life. And yours too. Even if you’ve never bought an Apple product. Because more than anyone else Jobs shaped the evolution of the personal computer for the past 3½ decades.
The term “PC” for a personal computer is most associated first with IBM and now with Microsoft. But it was Jobs who made the computer truly personal — usable by normal humans — by gathering the right people and technologies and driving them to implement his vision.
The other Steve from Apple, hardware genius and co-founder Steve Wozniak, was the primary engineer behind the Apple ][ of 1977, one of the first mass-produced micro-computers. But it was Jobs who insisted on putting rainbow stripes on the Apple logo to promote the machine’s capability. Meticulous attention to marketing and design followed ever since.
The Apple ][ ran VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet program for personal computers, which resulted in the personal computer being seen as a real business tool. That got Apple in the workplace.
A team of Xerox researchers at their Palo Alto Research Centre developed the graphical user interface (GUI) we use on desktop computers — mouse, keyboard, menu bar across the top with drop-down menus, overlapping on-screen windows. But it was Jobs who saw this technology on a visit to Xerox PARC and decided to turn it into a commercial product.
That product, the Apple Lisa, failed. Who in 1983 wanted to pay $9995 for an office computer? But it was Jobs who crashed through this setback to bring us the Macintosh a year later — and I hardly need to write about the success of that brand.
Programmers complained about the GUI, of course, because it didn’t represent the way they worked. But everyone else ignored them and got on with creating letters and memos with too many typefaces in MacWrite and illustrating them with MacPaint.
The Mac’s success came from Jobs’ control-freak obsession for detail. If you wanted to write software for Mac, you had to follow the Macintosh User Interface Guidelines, a book literally the size of a phone book.
The menu bar would read Apple, File, Edit and out to Help, in that order. The Edit menu would always be Undo, Cut, Copy, Paste and so on. Quit would always be the last item on the file menu. Again programmers objected, but the benefits for users was clear: once you’d learnt to use one Mac program, you’d already learnt half of all the rest.
Microsoft replicated this GUI for its Windows operating system for PCs — and immediately ran into a copyright infringement claim from Apple. It was forced to make changes.
To this very day, Windows accumulates desktop icons on the left-hand side of the screen because Apple has them on the right. Mac has a Trash icon, so Windows has a recycling bin instead.
It was Jobs who insisted on the first mass-produced laser printer, the Apple LaserWriter, having the full graphics capability of Adobe’s PostScript programming language even though it added hundreds to the price.
It was Jobs who insisted Apple completely re-engineer its operating system to the Unix-based OS X. The potential problems from such a massive transition could have been a disaster for Apple, but it was seamless.
Four simple words that turned Apple into the world’s biggest technology company and biggest music retailer.
Just a few quick personal choices from the many chapters of the Steve Jobs story …
I’ve skipped his entire personal life, his health, his reportedly prickly personality — but which genius isn’t a prick?
Sure, there’s a cult of personality around Steve Jobs. It’s annoying. But, like, it’s kinda deserved.